Michael McAllister lives in Easthampton. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Normal School, Brevity, and The Rumpus, as well as various anthologies. He has an MFA from Columbia University, where he was nonfiction editor of Columbia Journal, and he’s kept a long-running blog at Dogpoet.com.
And Then I Got Sick
A completely unscientific survey reveals that everyone I know is losing their minds. Texts and FaceTimes turn moody, and I have no words to fix the lives of my friends. One is stuck in a city far from home. Another can’t take that job in Paris. Lives interrupted, like we’ve all missed the last flight in some empty connecting airport. Everyone stir-crazy, horny, and lonesome, most of us stuck in an experience that the entire world is sharing, but enduring alone. Listen, shit is fucked. Suffocated by isolation and bad news, I hack my way through a mile of thorns with a butter knife.
And then I woke one morning with a sore throat.
Every interaction with the outside world is a calculated risk. Do I go to the grocery store or opt for delivery? Do I hike? Use my building’s laundry room? Break down from a shuddering need for physical contact and invite a dude over who’s also been quarantining and bears no symptoms?
The sore throat turned painful to swallow. Chills, then heat, then chills again. Body aches. Pounding head. A fever inching past 100. No respiratory problems, so I was on the fence about its critical, COVID-likely weight.
But it’s impossible to look at symptoms now through any other lens than COVID, so I emailed my GP, who sent me to a tent in a hospital parking lot, and a nurse in full protective gear stuck a long-ass swab about a foot up my nose, where for ten long seconds she held the burning tip in my sinuses, rubbed it around, then sent me on my way.
The next day I felt a bit better, so I wasn’t shocked when my test came back negative.
The sweet side effect of my sick-scare is that two friends, a couple in the next town over, took good care of me. One’s a doctor and between the two of them, I had constant texts, phone appointments for my current list of symptoms, and even a delivery from the supermarket. After my test results, I Venmo’d them the total with the memo line, “non-COVID groceries.”
I think about the word mother, when we use it in the context of sickness. We want, when weakened, to be mothered. We want—in the middle of a flu, in the eye of a pandemic—to know we’ll be okay. “You are not alone,” they texted me the night before my test results. They knew that at moments of weakness and fear, we need to hear that we won’t be abandoned.
I texted them back to tell them that I loved them. I wasn’t even feverish at the time. During my mom’s death, I learned that saying such words is an act you never regret.
What’s coming? Fuck if I know, but this is what’s getting me through the thorns. These little gleams of light and connection. As the whole world burns down, how else can you endure?